Scottish Education Secretary, John Swinney’s announcement regarding the cancellation of National 5 exams for the academic year ending June 2021 has been met with a confident approach from one Catholic school.
Mr Swinney announced that National 5 exams in Scotland will be cancelled and others will start later in the year due to Covid-19. The move means young people who were due to sit the tests will be assessed based on coursework instead.
In response to the move, Dorothy MacGinty, head teacher of Kilgraston School in Perthshire, told The Catholic Universe: “On behalf of our S4 pupils, I was sad to learn about the removal of next year’s Nat 5 exams, but relieved that S5 and S6 will have the opportunity to sit their external assessments.”
She noted that while the school would have preferred the more traditional exam system, the move to announced “centre-based estimation”, “quality not quantity” continual assessment was anticipated and the school is well prepared for the new circumstances.
“We also greatly welcome the acknowledgement of ‘teachers’ professional judgement’,” she added.
Ms MacGinty noted that the move is a “change of tack”, however, she acknowledged that “many lessons were learnt from the rapid shutdown in March” and “the system in place now is far more finely-honed”.
“From the beginning of Autumn Term 2020, our teachers have continued to use TEAMS – which was adopted across the School at the beginning of lockdown – so that pupil assessment is straightforward and easily recoverable for the SQA sample requests,” she said. “Teachers have had to become even more vigilant in tracking work and the message that every piece of work could possibly count towards external assessment is being constantly reinforced to all pupils in Senior years. In many ways, while this is a period of transition, I think, ultimately, this move offers opportunities for less stress and mental health issues surrounding exam performance.”
Ms MacGinty continued: “In tandem with our course-work classification and assessment, we started the academic year, 2020/2021, with the assumption that there would be external exams in May 2021 and that we would prepare pupils for prelims and formal examinations. We are very aware that current Fourth Year pupils may well not have a formal external exam for 18 months of learning, resulting in Highers being their first experience. We are, therefore, continuing with November’s prelims for Fourth Year and January’s for Fifth and Sixth.
“However, in absence of formal Nat 5 exams in May, we are evidencing performance from prelim and continual assessment results using, among other tools, photographic evidence of work. We welcome the additional fortnight for Higher and Advanced Higher exam dates,” she added.
Highers and Advanced Higher qualifications will be pushed back, starting on the later date of 13th May, to ensure students who missed teaching time due to the pandemic earlier this year will have the chance to catch up.
But contingency plans will be developed for the cancellation of those exams, with “check points” in place up until February for a decision to be made.
Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government “could not plan for business as usual” in next year’s exam diet.
He told MSPs: “Due to the level of disruption already caused by Covid and due to the likely disruption faced by some or all of our pupils and students this academic year, a full exam diet is simply too big a risk to take.”
The decision was based on two recommendations from a review ordered by the Education Secretary in the wake of the exams scandal by Professor Mark Priestley of Stirling University.
Mr Swinney said: “The alternative approach will be based on teacher judgment, supported by assessment resources and quality assurance.”
Between two and four pieces of work for every subject will be required from pupils, with Mr Swinney saying guidance from the SQA will “emphasise quality, not quantity”.
Picture: Pupils during an exam. (Chris Radburn/PA).